Tag Archives: science fiction

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel Title: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 9781447268970
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 333
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I could have easily finished this book in a day. That’s what I normally do when I start reading a book and I am totally immersed in it. That was also the case with “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel. I was gripped by the prose and the beauty of the language and I could have finished it in one day. But my journey or love affair with the book lasted for five days and I also know that it does not end here. I will constantly keep thinking of the book, and will also reread my favourite parts which I have marked and will cherish for a long time to come.

On the surface of things, “Station Eleven” might seem to be just another post-apocalyptic novel, but it is way beyond that. It is a testimony to us being human and more than anything else, to the survival power art can have in our lives and to a very large extent about the role of memory and how it can be, both cruel and kind.

“Station Eleven” is more than the regular novel, well at least to me it is. Why do you ask? Because it makes you feel things on a different level. How else can I put it? It also makes you perhaps live this life a little better than you already are and if a book manages to do that, then it is supreme to me.

“Station Eleven” is not about the end of the world, as most people say it is. It is to me the beginning of a new world and new hopes and aspirations that never die, no matter what. The book is about a pandemic that wipes out almost three-quarters of the world and more. There is nothing left. The old world or the world that we knew is gone. The new world has no electricity, no cars, no Internet, you get the drift. People drift. People try and settle. Things are no longer what they used to be at all.

Twenty years have passed since. Humans are trying very hard to reconstruct life – new ways, new means and The Traveling Symphony, that travels on foot, putting up performances – musical and that of Shakespeare. Amidst this there is a prophet and his band of people which the Traveling Symphony encounter and from there things go haywire. And I cannot forget at the core of all of this, lies a comic, which you will only know more about, when you read the book.

Of course, I cannot say much because that would mean giving away the plot, which I do not want to. Memory plays a major role in the book, as I mentioned earlier. It is these memories that help people survive the new world and also for some it seems best to forget them, in order to move on. The small bits of the book make it so worthwhile a read: When newscasters say goodbye, when there is a glimmer of hope that maybe things will not be the same and someone will come to rescue the living, when people will do anything to hang on to faith of any kind because it is so needed, when you don’t realize that this might be the last cup of coffee you drink or the last orange you eat and when the most insignificant things become the most significant.

“Station Eleven” manages to evoke multiple emotions in you as a reader. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it even makes you want to believe in humanity when it is dying all around you in the book, but I think above all it makes you hope, no matter what. The idea is not about apocalypse or what happened in the new world, as much as it is about reinventing and recreating the world with memories. The book is about the connections we have with people (as the six people in this book do with each other in some or the other manner), about how the beauty of the world can never be lost, about life hangs on to the very end and how perhaps we need to give ourselves more credit for being human. I cannot stop recommending this book enough and I will not. I think everyone should read this book, just about everyone.

Here is the book trailer:

Affiliate Link:

Buy Station Eleven

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Publisher: Broadway Books
ISBN: 978-0307887443
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I had heard of “Ready Player One” from other bloggers. I thought of the premise to be interesting, actually very interesting, and when I received the book, I could not stop reading it. More so, I finished reading the book twice in a span of six days and loved it more so the second time round.

Now let me tell you something about the book: The book is set in 2044 and the future is not very bright. It is everything but happy and cheerful. Everyone wants to escape reality and people choose to enter the world of OASIS instead, which is an artificially created simulated world.

The simulated world is created by a man named James Halliday, a geek – the ultimate lonely human being, who was obsessed with the 1980’s. Halliday dies at the beginning of the book, a billionaire with no heirs to his property and wealth. However, before dying he created a game within OASIS. The winner of the game would have to find three keys, leading to the ultimate find – the Egg. The winner would win billions of dollars. Everyone is in the rush to find the egg and win the prize. The protagonist of the story is an eighteen-year old boy, Wade Watts, with almost an in-built obsession to do anything with Halliday or the 80’s.

He lives in poverty with his cruel aunt (the regular orphan theme) in a trailer – which is quite surprising because in this world, the trailers are laid on top of each other, connected by a platform of sorts. He wants to get out of this misery and for him the only respite is living in OASIS. In this world, he meets his virtual friends – Aech and Art3mis. His own virtual world name is Parzival. The three of them head out to find the keys (separately or together is something that you have to find out). The story becomes only more interesting with more Gunters (the ones who are in the game) in the running for the Egg and another group called the Sixers, who work for a villainous corporation called the IOI who want to take over OASIS.

Wade has a lot of challenges set in his path before he can win the contest, however does he win or not, is the main question, for which you have to read the book.

The book is fast-paced (but obviously) and very intelligently written. I loved the random 80’s clues placed all over the book. From book references to movies to music to video games to the kind of computers made back then, it is all there – almost like reliving/living the 80’s. There is so much at the same time that I can go on about OASIS as a virtual world; however you need to read it to experience what I did. The writing is crisp in most places and there is a lot of ground that Cline has covered (which is quite evident) in shaping this book. I was tempted to draw parallels to The Hunger Games Trilogy, however that was just initially. Both the books are very different and hopefully intended for different audiences.

“Ready Player One” has it all – the ethical dilemmas, the love story, the virtual fantasy element and what it takes to be human in these such as these. It is definitely a page-turner and I am glad that there would be no sequel because the book is complete. The reader will go back and forth to mark the 80’s references and go back to them, at least I will. I absolutely loved “Ready Player One” and would recommend it to one and all.

Affiliate Link:

Buy Ready Player One from Flipkart.com

Book Review: Embassytown by China Mieville

Title: Embassytown
Author: China Mieville
Publisher: Pan MacMillan
ISBN: 978-0-330-53307-2
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 405
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are very few authors who consistently write enthralling books month after month or year after year. China Mieville happens to be one of them. His books are of the “New Weird” genre and I am not kidding about that. I remember reading, “Perdido Street Station” a long time ago and completely taken in by his style and the magnificence of his writing. Since then I have read most of his books – from King Rat to The City and the City, Kraken and now “Embassytown”.

“Embassytown” for me was not an easy read. It doesn’t start off easy, being the hard-core sci-fi novel that it is. It took me quite a while to get into the book and enjoy it more so only after 100 pages or so. Let me now tell you something about the book.

The book takes place on a planet known as Ariekei. A colony of human beings has formed an improbable and unheard of alliance with an unusual species, the Ariekei, known by those who live on their planet as Hosts. What makes the Ariekei strange is the fact that they have a different language. Different in the sense that they utter each word in two distinct simultaneous voices, without any words, they cannot distinguish between the sounds they employ (I found this very fascinating), the meanings they intend therefore are not clear, and so they cannot lie or recognize meaningful speech (I found this quite futuristic and scary). The only pair of humans, who have been specifically modified for the purpose of coordinating their voices and their thoughts, can communicate with the Hosts. These paired humans are known as Ambassadors.

Avice, the narrator and protagonist of the story makes us see Ariekei right through her childhood and youth – portraying an urban existence so different from ours and yet deep-rooted in universal aspects of city life. In the first couple of chapters, Avice’s complicated history with different powers of Embassytown is detailed, leading to the one evening when everything changes. The overlapping sections are well-paced, revealing the narrative secrets one step at a time. Who is Avice? What happened to her? Why are she and her husband Scile back? What is the actual science fiction element of the novel? Mieville sure doesn’t serve anything to the reader on a platter. The mystery of Ariekei and Embassytown is revealed layer by layer for the reader. The suspense element is right high on the charts and makes you turn the page, wanting more.

Mieville weaves the story so well – taking something as common-place and often taken for granted, language and showing us its real nature – as a jumping-off point – the novel is not as much of ideas as it then becomes of images. The idea of a city in transit and the cultural clashes by synergizing humans and aliens is remarkable and scary at the same time. China Mieville makes the necessary paradigm shift required for the “science-fiction” novel, by bringing out the nuances and elements of the robust world-building and the distinct awe and terror required for such books.

“Before the humans came, we didn’t speak so much of many things. Before the humans came, we didn’t speak.” That is the crux of the book. Embassytown greatest strength lies in the fact that it speaks about the fragility and duplicity of language, about the meaning, its creation and how sometimes language just doesn’t remain a reference point. What I did not like about the book is that the brilliant secondary characters were not explored more. I would have loved to see them shape and have their own voices.

Embassytown is everything you wanted though in a sci-fi novel – weird, inventive and nail-biting intrigue. If you have the patience needed for such a book, then you will not be disappointed by it at all.

Affiliate Link:

Buy Embassytown from Flipkart.com

Book Review: Lucy by Laurence Gonzales

Title: Lucy
Author: Laurence Gonzales
Publisher: Knopf, Random House
Genre: Science Fiction, Literary Fiction, Futuristic
ISBN: 978-0307272607
PP: 320 pages
Price: $24.95
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

In Lucy by Laurence Gonzales the author taps into a common fear expressed about the potential for research in the area of genomics– what if someone manages to breed a human with an ape, what would be the result? There is lots of speculation that such interbeeding is possible, all of it accompanied by disclaimers along the line of “but of course nobody would do that.” Well in this book someone did, a scientist whose goal was not research but to bring about a new race of hominids and help save humanity.

Gonzales maintains the focus of his book on Lucy, the extraordinary child who results from her scientist father’s research and on Jenny, the anthropologist who rescues her from the Congo after her father is killed by Congolese insurgents. While reading the first part of the book my main reaction was disappointment– I found it not to be particularly well written and there were numerous info dumps. The revelation that Lucy was half bonobo ape came much too quickly. However, I think Gonzales just wanted to get all of that background out of the way so he could focus on what happens to Lucy as she tries to assimilate in society. Once Lucy gets settled in Chicago and starts going to school, the book becomes much more interesting, and I had a hard time putting it down. I found his descriptions of Lucy trying to adjust to life in the hectic world of the United States after growing up in isolation in the African jungle very insightful, particularly her reaction to her first visit to a shopping center.

When a medical emergency results in the realization that Lucy’s secret will be exposed, Lucy, Jenny and Lucy’s best friend, Amanda, take the bull by the horns and announce Lucy’s heritage to the world on YouTube. Gonzales avoids addressing the larger issue of whether such research should be conducted and keeps his focus narrowly on Lucy– in her case the research has been done, she is here, and how should we deal with her? Some might criticize Gonzales for bypassing the larger issues, however by focusing on Lucy, and dealing with the moral issues peripherally, Gonzales manages to bring home some of the major issues involved in primate research. When Lucy is captured and is subjected to a craniotomy for research purposes, we realize what a very narrow line separates humans from the apes on whom such research is routinely conducted. By making Lucy subject to religious attacks by those who think she is an abomination, Gonzales manages to highlight some of the dangers involved in a theocratic society.

I didn’t want to stop reading this book. Life is busy, but I just wanted to keep reading (and it’s an easy, fast read, if you have the time). While not perfect (dialogue, other issues), I very highly recommend this book. The blurb says it’s written in the tradition of Mary Shelley and Michael Crichton. True, but in a thoroughly modern-fiction way. Those who enjoy reading about situations that pose ethical dilemmas may well find this book stimulating. I found it to be a melding of sci-fi, contemporary literary fic, and teen fic, with societal implications. This book did what that book promised much more successfully. Additionally, I felt that this book wasn’t as formulaic as it might have been, which scored points with me.

“Lucy” is one of those novels that rises above it’s imperfections to provide grist for those who love to examine society, unusual situations, and the “what if’s” that come along in our lives now and then, as the best fiction/science fiction can do. I think this book can help readers ponder the human “condition,” that which makes us human, the bigger universe and connection with life forms different from our own, and opens our eyes to changes in our world and the various ways they can be greeted. Again, this book isn’t perfect, but I’d say it was way worth the time and worth the trip.

Authors I Love: #1 Margaret Atwood

From the time I started reading, “The Handmaid’s Tale”, I fell in love with Atwood. Her writing is so lucid and so political that one could never imagine that a writer could mix political and feminist issues with such ease – may be because they are intertwined at any given point. Margaret Atwood to a very large extent is also a funny writer – she does not bore the reader at any given point of time – be it “Cat’s Eye” or “The Robber Bride” – where she based her malicious women on fairy tale characters. And who can forget her shorter works – “The Penelopiad” (which I have reviewed) depicting the plight of Penelope to “The Tent” – a fantastic short collection of vignettes, to “The Blind Assassin” which is my personal favourite that reveals the dark side of living.

There are two reasons why I love reading Atwood: First, the way she brings her characters to life and second, she says everything she has to using words that fit the emotion. I have not read any of her non-fiction and poetry,  though I will someday and looking forward to reading, “The Year of the Flood”.

Bibliography

 

Genesis by Bernard Beckett

I am not a science fiction reader. Never have been and never claim to. I have not enjoyed Asimov(Dare I say that!) or Dune(Even worse than to mention it on my blog) and yet I ventured and picked up Genesis. Only because I was intrigued and to tell you the truth, I was not disappointed in the least. Yes the story is set way in the  future – 2075 to be precise (which scarily enough does not seem very far, does it now?) and the crux of the story is “Individualism” – literally. All that Orwell and Rand profess.

The plot is simple with the many layers that one has to read between and that’s the fun part. Its about the formation of The Republic, which is primarily due to countries not trusting one another. Wars have been waged and the result is clear: The Republic stands on the other side disintegrated by a wall in the sea. They have their own principles and philosophies. Their world is divided into four distinct categories: Laborers, Soldiers, Technicians and Philosophers. Philosophers being at the top of the so-called existence chain. And then enters our principal character of the book: Adam Thorpe who rescues a girl from being killed and in the bargain has to spend time with a machine as an experiment. This has happened in the past.

The present is that of Anaximander who stands before a panel of examiners, applying for a place in the Academy, for which she has to go through a 4-hour long question and answer round. She is all set to stand up for her hero Adam and in the bargain only discovers that things are not always what they seem.

Well in my opinion, I loved the book. Though the premise and structure did remind me of influences borrowed heavily from Huxley, Orwell and Rand, yet Genesis stands out to be an original. The arguments between Man and Machine are beautifully expressed and while I do not believe in reading about books set in the future, I might just have to eat my words this time and recommend this one.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

It’s the temperature at which paper burns said the first page of the book and I knew it having read it earlier, and yet I chose this book to be re-read. It has only instilled my faith further in the power of words and what can they do. Writers such as Bradbury and Orwell who have written on the totalitarian society and how a group of people stand and fight it, may be somewhere at some point done the same and that is what which amazes me.

I first read this novella (190 pages and yes I am aware that the technical definition would not allow it to be classified it as a novella, however I chose to call it that) when I was 16 and was enthralled by it. Guy Montag’s transformation from a fireman who burns books and takes pleasure in it to the one who savors the written word and wants to save books and thereby his soul is brilliant. Bradbury did not dream the future when he wrote Fahrenheit 451, the future actually was here. Right now. Look around you. Aren’t we burning books by banning them anyway? I am sure in certain parts of the world people are not at liberty to read (Afghanistan being one such place). I wonder how my life would be if someone were to barge in my house and burn down my books. I would either kill myself or the person in the bargain. It would be the latter in all probability.

What I loved about the book this time, is that I understood the layers involved, which I hadn’t earlier. It is not only about book censorship, it is about censorship period. The part in the book when Guy is raving mad at a bunch of women who think nothing beyond their husbands and “families” who can now be viewed on huge TV Screens and how he reads poetry to them and one of the women starts crying. I would like to believe that the tears were for a lost tradition amongst them. That of reading. The joy of thinking. The freedom to speak without editing a word.

I can say one thing though – Books can never be extinct. Try as you might. Try hard if you will. Just try.